Sunil Bastian

(2010) Contradictions of Capitalism.

Himal October 2010

Since the end of the war in May 2009, there has been a lot of talk about 'reconciliation and development' in Sri Lanka. Though this is a slogan promoted primarily by the government, many, including the business sector and civil society, have welcomed such rhetoric. This has been buttressed by the support of some donor agencies, whose main agenda has been the promotion of a capitalist economy. There is no doubt that the defeat of the LTTE has created an environment more conducive for positive expectations in the country, nor should one underestimate the importance of this development. After all, it is far better to be in an environment in which politics, rather than the clash of arms, dominates. However, the question remains as to whether Sri Lanka will make use of this opportunity to develop a more just society, or merely to move in a direction that consolidates the structures of social exclusion.

As history has shown, capitalism can indeed lead to development in societies that ensure economic growth, equity and personal freedom. But this comes about through interventions of human agency, and there are no 'laws' of the market, or inevitable historical processes, that can ensure such an evolution. Far from the suggestions of some, capitalism is not a model of development promoted through a Western 'conspiracy', but rather is the product of a historical process characterised by social struggle. In some parts of the world, these social struggles have been more successful in developing a capitalism that ensures basic rights and entitlements for the masses. In other places, these struggles have been less successful. These differences are seen even developed capitalist countries. Despite the fact that the US is still the largest economy in the world and is the only superpower, it remains unable to ensure health-care facilities for all of its citizens. In Europe, on the other hand, the right to universal health care has been taken for granted for generations.

Given this contradictory character of capitalism, one of the major tasks that face progressive political forces in Sri Lanka today is to identify and tackle the major social contradictions generated by more than three decades of liberal economic policies. These interventions have to be at the local as well as global level. It now appears certain that the stability created by the end of the war is bound to intensify the capitalist relations in the country's economy, and unless specific targeted policies are put in place, the social contradictions are bound to intensify.

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